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A New Spotlight For the Independents: The Beacon Independent Film Festival

we will

By Robert Burke Warren

An old musician temporarily outwits the Grim Reaper and gets an extra decade of life, during which he nurtures his community; a mom n’ pop cryonics operation promises immortality and thrives, despite the scoffing of scientists; a middle-aged mother struggles to save her prescription pill-addicted daughter, losing herself in the process; two thirty-something Manhattan couples retreat to the Catskills, finding much more than they bargained for. These stories, all told in film, seem quite disparate; the first two, Ain’t In It For My Health: A Film About Levon Helm, and We Will Live Again (the cryogenic film, pictured above) are documentaries, the third and fourth, Bottled Up (starring Oscar-winner Melissa Leo, below) and Palace Living, are fictional narratives. As part of the upcoming inaugural Beacon Independent Film Festival, however, all four share a common thread. Festival founder and director Terry Nelson says, “A lot of our selections are about an individual making a choice, and how it affects them and the people around them.”

leoThe emergence of a theme in BIFF, running September 13th through the 15th at University Settlement Camp in Beacon, is an accident. “I didn’t want to have a theme,” Nelson says, laughing. As a longtime film editor and voiceover actor, he’d seen his share of festivals, and wanted to launch something homespun and modest. “I sought a lot of advice in the beginning,” he says. “People kept saying I had to have a theme. But we didn’t want to follow the film festival blueprint. We don’t have submissions or jury prizes, and we want the average person to feel comfortable walking in and being part of the experience. We just picked films that moved us, then stepped back and recognized the similarities. The most important thing is to develop our voice, rather than parachute in and tell people what to think.”

helmThe BIFF voice, apparently, comprises stories about seemingly small but decidedly willful actions radiating out and influencing others, to sometimes surprising degrees. The festival itself mirrors this process; what began as an idea hatched during Nelson’s time on the Beacon Arts board has become a buzz-worthy event embraced by the community, citizens and businesses alike.

George Mansfield, co-owner of Beacon’s Dogwood Bar & Grill, couldn’t be happier about the festival, which he is helping sponsor. “Everyone wants to be part of the renaissance that’s happening here,” he says. “Viewing and enjoying film on a community level is going to be very important to Beacon.”

Nelson noticed that renaissance when he moved from Manhattan to Beacon in 2009. But something was missing. “The more exposure I got to the arts community,” he says, “the more I realized film was the missing element. We had theater and visual art, but there wasn’t an opportunity for Beaconites to see indie film unless they went across the bridge to Newburgh.” In a classic “build it and they will come” situation, he created BIFF. “It’s taken on a life of its own,” he says. “A lot of people have come together to help each other. It’s a very collaborative environment.”

biffAward-winning filmmaker and Newburgh local, Enid Zentelis, is excited to bring her Bottled Up to BIFF. For one thing, the entire film – Melissa Leo’s first job after winning her Oscar for The Fighter – was shot on location in Beacon and Newburgh. “I’m looking forward to screening Bottled Up in the community which helped make it,” she says. “My first narrative film (Evergreen, 2004) premiered at Sundance, and Bottled Up premiered at Tribeca Film Festival, and I appreciate all that, but I’m not in it for the hoopla. I prefer something simple and direct. For me, the Beacon festival is perfect. It’s amazing to think of all the community members and businesses that got behind the production. It couldn’t have been done without them.”

onewallNelson discusses the scheduled films with the enthusiasm of a dad bragging about his kids. “I saw One Wall: Kings of Coney Island in Brooklyn,” he says, laughing. “It’s like David Mamet did a handball movie. And How to Make Movies At Home is genius; it’s a narrative and a how-to. It’s fun.”

Fun is important to Terry Nelson and the Beacon Independent Film Festival. “A lot films aren’t really fun anymore,” he says. “Filmmakers tend to take themselves too seriously. All the films we chose, the filmmakers look like they’re having fun. Audiences are smart enough to pick up on that.”

Beacon Independent Film Festival
September 13 - 15
University Settlement Camp
724 Wolcott Avenue, Beacon, NY

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Posted by Scott Baldinger on 09/09/13 at 07:11 PM • Permalink